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Habitat Herd Land Management

Fall Food Plots Could Be Crucial This Year

by Jason Herbert   |  August 1st, 2012 13

With the record-setting heat and drought like conditions plaguing the U.S. this summer, planting fall food plots is going to be important. I talk to a lot of deer hunters across the nation and no matter the location, we’re noticing the same patterns. Unless irrigated, most of the crop fields are really struggling. Yields are going to be lower, and insurance claims are already being filed in some areas to cover losses. Many of these “lost” fields will simply be tilled under or chopped at some point this fall, leaving little significant food left for deer. The mast sources of fruits and nuts aren’t doing much better either. People are reporting acorns the size of peas already dropping. I’ve noticed miniature hickory nuts falling in my area.

The intent of spring food plots is to ensure deer have proper nutrition through the summer months leading into the fall hunting season. Most spring plots are planted with nourishment in mind. This year, many well-planned spring food plots look like a wasteland, and haven’t seen deer traffic in months. Precious time and resources were wasted planting plots this spring that just never got enough rain to be sustainable, but all hope isn’t lost.

Each year, dedicated hunters and land managers also plant fall food plots aimed at attracting deer during the hunting season. Nutritional value is always nice for the deer, but the main focus of a fall plot is to attract deer during the season. It’s said that “variety is the spice of life” and deer crave choices when it comes to eating. There are several fall food sources that can still be planted in August for a productive fall hunting plot.

I put oats and wheat in almost every fall food plot I create. Deer love their young, tender growth. Plus, they act as a distraction and nurse crop, for other more delicate food plot offerings. Both are hearty, healthy, grow quickly, and are cheap. Oats and wheat will grow almost anywhere. Several seed companies are now selling frost resistant breeds of oats that will grow well into the cold fall. Wheat doesn’t have a problem surviving the cold weather. No matter the location, oats and wheat are a must for an attractive fall plot.

One of my most favorite fall offerings are turnips. Turnips are great for several reasons. First, their huge, leafy greens grow big and tall, creating a high yield. All the while, the turnip itself is growing in the soil. Usually the size of a softball, a turnip is a heavy, hearty tuber. Once a few fall frosts hit, the starches in the leaves and turnip turn to sugars, and the deer can’t resist. From the point when the first frost hits, until the deer dig the frozen turnips themselves out of the late winter soil, the turnip plots will be a popular location. Another nice feature is that many shed antlers are lost each winter in turnip plots while bucks are digging for the sweet treats.

Although most people plant clover in the spring, it’s also a safe, fall food plot choice. Clover is healthy and green, delivering a high amount of protein to the deer. This fall, any existing clover plot is sure to be a popular destination among the local deer herd. Clover isn’t always easy to establish, and if planted in the fall, generally won’t live up to it’s potential until the following season. A perennial food source, clover will keep coming back year after year. In fact, healthy clover plots need to be mowed from time to time as well. Regardless of the challenges clover brings, it’s worth a shot planting this fall.

I have developed a mutually beneficial relationship with a few local farmers. I come each spring and clean out any leftover seed that they don’t need and were planning on throwing out. I then store it in a nice, dry location for later use. Soybeans are a perfect fall food plot offering. They probably won’t reach maturity, but the deer love their young, green shoots and leaves. Plus, who else in the area is offering fresh soybean plants to the deer in October?

  • Nick – Michigan

    Great article! I will be hunting around beans this year and based on past experience, it would be a rough fall with the summer we've had. This article has helped push me to get out and put in some food plots and turn this years hunt into my best yet!

  • Jason Herbert

    Thanks Nick! I have heard that from this point forward we will be getting a "normal" amount of rain here in Michigan. But… normal in August means DRY! I am going out and seeding a few more this am, looks like it'll be raining when I go. Good Luck!

  • ernie blackwell

    Jason what would be the best food plot for the the upper part of S.C. near the N.C. state line

  • Gordon Whittington

    Ernie, I don't know what Jason would recommend for your area, but I'd think the answer depends on how far east you are in SC. If you're in the coastal plain, I'd wait until late Sept. (or even a bit later) and plant cold-hardy winter oats. If you want to try a spring coastal planting that will last into the fall, next year you might also try some jointvetch (Aeschonymene). If you're in an upland area, this year I'd probably go with an early- to mid-Sept. planting of oats, maybe mixed with rye (not ryegrass). Rye holds up a little better to drought than oats do, but oats are more preferred by deer.

  • Steve

    Great article! New things for me to think about when going out this year.

  • Jason Herbert

    Ernie and Steve, thanks for reading! Ernie, I think Gordon gave great advice. The only thing I could add is possibly throw a few purple top turnips in with those oats? Let us know how it turns out. Happy Planting!

  • Nate

    Excellent article. This will be a tough Fall with the nationwide drought conditions. All we can hope for is some cooler temps and a little rain. It will be fun, however, planting the plots and thinking about the big boy who will hopefully be frequenting them!

  • Michael Block

    Good info, and a great read Jason, thank you! It was interesting to know that the starch in the turnip leaves turn to sugar after the frost. It seems to be opposite for clover from what I've heard. Is it true that once the frost hits, the sugar in clover enters retirement?

  • Jason Herbert

    Michael and Nate, thank you for the kind words. Michael, good question! I know clover is high in protein and deer prefer eating the leaves over the stems. I haven't heard or read about what you mentioned, so I'm going to ask Gordon.

    Gordon, your thoughts?

  • gary l.

    Jason, Great article! that really helps me with my area! Now I have some ideas about what I can do. Keep the great info coming, it really helps me! gary l.

  • Jason Herbert

    Thanks Gary and good luck this fall!

  • Gordon Whittington

    Even with cold-hardy clovers the sugar level starts to drop in northern winters. This is true of most other forage plants, as well. The spike of sugar levels in brassicas after a killing frost/freeze is short term. It occurs as the foliage is dying back. In other words, think of it as a form of natural silage. Of course, it doesn't last long before only the root portion of the plant remains.

  • Matt M.

    Great read. Very similar to what I put out. Just put out two plots this morning. I used about 40# oats, 25# winter wheat, 5 # annual ryegrass, and 3# purple top turnips per acre. Alot of corn stubble around our farm, just trying to add some thing to our field that makes it a little more interesting. Got a little creative also and made a y shaped plot leading from two bedding areas headed to just hopefully up wind of our stand.

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